The Cayman Turtle Farm had a big idea – and a bad idea: train green sea turtles, starting with a female named “Myrtle,” to give rides to visitors in the water.
So read a news story that appeared on the front page of Monday’s Compass. The Turtle Farm pursued, in earnest and utilizing staff resources, a plan where turtles would approach visitors and allow them to hold on to their shells for “turtle-back rides.”
It requires only a modest exercise of the imagination to envision how this particular proposal might have come about. It’s a classic case of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Turtle Farm staff members, no doubt, can’t help but notice how their neighbor (and rival) across the road, Dolphin Discovery, is continually attracting throngs of tourists at premium prices and thus is thriving financially. The following train of thought might ensue: “Well, what do they got that we haven’t got? Financial discipline? … Private sector ingenuity? … The flexibility to adapt to free market conditions? … Hold the phone – Dolphin rides! Of course!”
A neuron fires. A synapse is bridged. A light bulb illuminates.
When the Turtle Farm’s former head animal trainer Amy Souster was told of the grand scheme, she reacted thusly: “I physically laughed,” she related to a Compass reporter. “I kept waiting for them to say they were joking.”
However, they were not joking. According to our news story, “[T]he idea was to have two shows a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, when six visitors could take turns being pulled through the water by the turtle.”
Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam said, “It was so cool to watch, and the people loved it.”
Now, we consider Mr. Adam to be a good man in an untenable position, and as a rule we fully support Mr. Adam as Cayman’s expert-in-all-things-turtle. We make an exception, however, for turtle riding.
It is, precisely as Ms. Souster put it, “a terrible idea.”
The reasons are numerous. We shall pick three.
First – in terms of playfulness of personality, warm-bloodedness, intellect, velocity and grace – turtles aren’t exactly dolphins. To put it one way, if we were to put on a “dinner and a show” starring turtles and dolphins, guess which species would appear on the menu, and which on the playbill. Putting it another way, from an advertising angle, riding a turtle doesn’t exactly have the same zip to it as, say, riding a roller coaster.
Second – salmonella. Like most reptiles, turtles carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tracts. That poses a potentially serious health hazard to people (particularly children) who touch turtles, who swim with turtles in enclosed areas, or in the case of turtle-riding, both. (Concern over salmonella transmission is the reason cited by the Turtle Farm in finally, thankfully, nixing the turtle-riding idea.)
Third – animal abuse. We aren’t saying that turtle-riding, inherently, constitutes an abusive practice, but it certainly could appear that way, particularly to animal rights activists such as World Animal Protection, who have the Turtle Farm squarely in their crosshairs as a target for closure. On top of issues of crowding, diet, handling, infection, butchering, etc., the last thing the Turtle Farm needs to do is introduce an unnecessary practice that could further tarnish its less-than-sterling reputation.
Setting all of the above aside, the main conclusion that we draw from this latest effort is not just that turtle-riding is a bad idea, it’s that the Turtle Farm seems all out of good ideas. It is a failed tourist attraction that drains $10 million per year from the public treasury and presents an easy opportunity for those who would malign the image of the Cayman Islands.
From a financial and public relations perspective, the government-owned company is a liability, not an asset.